Summer in the city: scholarships for refugees at King's College London
UNHCR partnership offers bursaries for refugees
LONDON, UK – This summer one of the UK’s most prestigious universities provided refugees in the UK the opportunity to recharge their academic batteries by attending summer courses on a free bursary.
For the third year running, King’s College London has been working in partnership with UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, to offer summer school places to people who have fled persecution and conflict in their home countries. The university is waiving the usual fees of £1,590 for refugees, in exchange for UNHCR staff teaching specialised classes on refugee protection and humanitarian issues on the international human rights module.
This year six people with refugee status in the UK took up the opportunity to spend three weeks at King’s College in full time study taught at degree level. From different countries, of different backgrounds, and displaced in vastly different circumstances, the students were all united in a drive to improve their situations, their academic credentials, and to integrate in the UK.
“I think this is a good opportunity to get back into academia for me,” said Adam,* who had to flee his country in South Asia after political upheavals there. A former journalist and government official, Adam, now in his early 50s, holds a Master’s degree from his home country. He hopes to fulfil a long-held ambition to complete a PhD, but it is only now, after six years in the UK, that he is feeling settled enough to begin the process.
Adam sought and was granted asylum in the UK in 2010. Since then he has continued to work in his field as an independent journalist and has been able to earn enough to support himself. But the time had come to move forward, he said, and the King’s summer school scholarship offered such an avenue.
“It’s good for me and other refugees to get to know the mainstream, meet others, make contacts, and maybe to gain a job.”
That was also Eric’s* thinking. The 37-year-old wants to resume a life that was disrupted while he was in the middle of doctorate studies in Cuba. A former university lecturer in his native Republic of the Congo, the sports scientist – who was also a student leader for his compatriots in Cuba – fell foul of his country’s diplomatic mission in Havana, and was sent home.
It was during a stopover in the UK that he claimed asylum. He was granted refugee status a few months later and has spent much of his time since learning English – to an impressive degree. Eric has been in the country since 2011, and since moving to London in 2013 and getting a job as a kitchen porter, he has been working day and night to make ends meet. Now, however, it was time for him to improve his situation, he said. He shares an apartment with six other people – one of them his wife, a fellow Congolese whom he met in London – and still works as a kitchen porter, now in a hospital in Woolwich where he lives.
“When I see what I am doing and what I have done….” Eric paused. “I used to teach at a university. I’ve taught sports, I’ve taught French and Spanish…. The purpose now is to change what I am doing, I thought this course would help me on that road. I have to build my CV. That is why I did this course.”
It’s the kind of motivation that King’s Summer Programmes team wanted to inspire with their ‘Summer-at-King’s’ scholarships.
“What we hope to achieve is providing a first step either back into education or to start rebuilding a career,” said Dr Alexander Heinz, Senior Tutor Summer Programmes, at King’s.
Another of the refugee students, Rose,* is also educated to postgraduate level, but was unable to work or study during the years that she was waiting for a decision on her asylum application in the UK. She is now determined to make up for lost time and has decided to restart a career in health and counselling.
“Those three years, my life was on hold. I couldn’t work, I couldn’t do anything. These were terrible moments in my life… When I read the advert about this course, I felt it was a step in the right direction for me.”
Rose chose to do a Public Health course, one of more than 30 courses taught in two sessions over six summer weeks. And the experience, she said, had been invaluable: “I want to go into that area and this has given me a basic foundation.”
Adam chose to do a course on War and Diplomacy – “this is my field” – and ended up a valuable resource in his own right for other students with his extensive experience of South Asian politics.
His tutor from the Department of War Studies Professor Jack Spence OBE described Adam as “very keen and enthusiastic and he doesn't want special treatment. The summer school has been a profitable experience for him. I would recommend him for his qualifications, and I am supporting him in pursuing his doctorate.”
All students at the summer courses will get a certificate, and a record of achievement with a grade. Perhaps just as importantly, said Heinz, attending the course is a sign of dedication.
At King’s, the scholars are seen as a group enriching the programme and it is the university’s intention to repeat the scheme again next year. The university also this year started offering two fully paid so-called ‘Sanctuary Scholarships’ for refugees and asylum-seekers.
Meanwhile, the focus is on those who attended this summer.
“There’s a very harsh interruption or break in refugees’ lives,” said Heinz. “It wasn’t in their life’s plan to come to this country. I think the academic learning offered on the King’s Summer School is a great opportunity for everyone. The contacts people make on these courses are enormously important too as is just being involved and feeling integrated.”
*Names have been changed to protect identities.